This essay originally appeared on TomDispatch.
They may have been the most disastrous dreamers, the most reckless gamblers and the most vigorous imperial hucksters and grifters in our history. Selling was their passion. And they were classic American salesmen–if you’re talking about underwater land in Florida, the Brooklyn Bridge, three-card monte, bizarre visions of Iraqi unmaanned aerial vehicles armed with chemical and biological weaponry let loose over the United States, Saddam Hussein’s mushroom clouds rising over American cities, a full-scale reordering of the Middle East to our taste or simply eternal global dominance.
When historians look back, it will be far clearer that the “commander-in-chief” of a “wartime” country and his top officials were focused, first and foremost, not on the shifting central theaters of their “Global War on Terror” but on the theater that mattered most to them–the “home front,” where they spent inordinate amounts of time selling the American people a bill of goods. Of his timing in ramping up a campaign to invade Iraq in September 2002, White House Chief of Staff Andrew Card infamously explained: “From a marketing point of view, you don’t introduce new products in August.”
From a White House where “victory strategies” meant purely for domestic consumption poured out, to the Pentagon where bevies of generals, admirals and other high officers were constantly being mustered, not to lead armies but to lead public opinion, their selling focus was total. They were always releasing new product.
And don’t forget their own set of soaring inside-the-Beltway fantasies. After all, if a salesman is going to sell you some defective product, it always helps if he can sell himself on it first. And on this score, they were world champs.
Because events made it look so foolish, the phrase “shock and awe” that went with the initial attack on Iraq in March 2003 has now passed out of official language and (together with “mission accomplished”) into the annals of irony. Back then, though, as bombs and missiles blew up parts of Baghdad–to fabulous visual effect in that other “theater” of war, television–the phrase was constantly on official lips and in media reports everywhere. It went hand-in-glove with another curious political phrase: regime change.
Given the supposed unique technological proficiency of the US military and its array of “precision” weapons, the warriors of Bushworld convinced themselves that a new era in military affairs had truly dawned. An enemy “regime” could now be taken out–quite literally and with surgical precision, in its bedrooms, conference rooms, and offices, thanks to those precision weapons delivered long-distance from ship or plane. Poof! You only had to say the word and an oppressive regime would be, as it was termed, “decapitated.” Its people would then welcome with open arms relatively small numbers of American troops as liberators.